The hidden cost of perfume: child labor in jasmine harvesting

What is hidden behind luxury perfumes that contain jasmine? A new BBC investigation reveals a disturbing and unacceptable hidden side: once again it is children who are paying the price

We all use our favorite perfumes daily, but have we ever wondered where the ingredients come from? Many fragrances on the market, including those from well-known brands, use jasmine in their composition. A new BBC investigation has focused on the seemingly harmless jasmine harvest to produce perfumes.

This investigation reveals in detail how jasmine, a key ingredient in perfumes like Lancôme Idôle L’Intense and Aerin Beauty’s Ikat Jasmine, is often harvested by children under the age of 15. Once again, we are confronted with the serious issue of child labor, depriving children of a peaceful childhood and the opportunity to attend school.

The realithy in Egypt

This exploitation occurs in Egypt, a country that produces about half of the world’s jasmine flowers. Here, pickers, often underpaid due to the low budgets imposed by large companies, are forced to involve their children, violating local laws that prohibit nighttime child labor (it is illegal for anyone under 15 to work in Egypt between 7:00 PM and 7:00 AM).

A mother’s struggle

Heba, one of the pickers interviewed by the BBC, lives in a village in the heart of Egypt’s jasmine region, Gharbia. Every morning, she wakes her family at 3:00 AM to begin the harvest of these very delicate flowers before the sun’s heat can damage them.

Like many jasmine pickers in Egypt, Heba is “independent” and works hard on a small farm. To make ends meet, she involves her four children, aged 5 to 15, including little Basmalla, who has developed severe eye allergies due to the exhausting working conditions.

The hardships of jasmine picking

On the night documented in the BBC video, Heba and her children managed to pick 3.3 pounds of jasmine flowers. After paying one-third of their earnings to the landowner, Heba was left with only about $1.50 for the work done. An extremely low wage, especially considering Egypt’s high inflation rate, which has pushed many pickers below the poverty line.

The scope of child labor

It is difficult to determine exactly how many of the 30,000 people involved in Egypt’s jasmine industry are children. However, during the summer of 2023, when the BBC filmed the investigation and interviewed numerous residents, many reported that the low price of jasmine forced them to involve their children in the work.

But where are the companies that buy the jasmine in all this? What are they doing?

The investigation revealed that despite companies’ statements about zero tolerance for child labor and their commitments, the supply chain monitoring systems are significantly lacking. They often rely on third-party auditing firms to verify their practices, without always obtaining accurate or detailed results.

The companies’ response

The companies involved, such as L’Oréal (owner of Lancôme) and Estée Lauder (which owns Aerin Beauty), responded to the findings by emphasizing their commitment to respecting international human rights standards and improving conditions in their supply chains. However, the concrete actions to address the problem appeared inadequate given the severity of the violations revealed.

Industry criticism

Independent perfumer Christophe Laudamiel has sharply criticized the industry’s practices, highlighting how the budgets imposed by parent companies push down pickers’ wages, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and child labor.

Sarah Dadush, lawyer and founder of the Responsible Contracting Project, concluded that current systems are not suited to prevent and resolve human rights violations in global supply chains and expressed the urgent need for stricter laws and more effective corporate responsibility, rejecting the idea that the problem should be solved solely by consumers.

Call for action

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, said he was disturbed by the evidence presented by the BBC World Service, including undercover footage from Egyptian jasmine fields during last year’s harvest season.

But shock is not enough; action is urgently needed to stop child labor.

You can watch the entire BBC report in the following video.

Source: BBC

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